Democrat lawmakers voted down an amendment to deny federal relief funding to educational institutions that partner with Chinese entities and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) affiliates.
The amendment to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill was proposed by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) on Feb. 8, two weeks after President Joe Biden quietly nixed a proposed regulation that would have required colleges to disclose ties to Confucius Institutes, CCP-funded college partnerships that the Trump administration considered a part of Beijing’s influence network.
“The Chinese Communist Party will do everything possible to steal our intellectual property and research, compromise our professors, and even recruit individuals on campus for espionage,” Stefanik said, introducing the measure during the Feb. 9 Education and Labor Committee hearing.
“We value our institutions of higher education as forums for open thought and expression and incubators for innovation and learning. The Chinese Communist Party sees them as the opposite: forums for communist brainwashing and censoring speech, and unfortunately a marketplace for intellectual theft.”
The Democrat-controlled committee tossed Stefanik’s amendment in a 27-21 party-line vote during the 13-hour hearing that lasted into early morning hours of Feb. 10.
Confucius Institutes bill themselves as places to learn Mandarin, study Chinese culture, and land a scholarship. They’re funded and largely staffed by Hanban, a nonprofit that claims to be non-governmental, but is in fact directly controlled by the CCP, according to a report by the Senate homeland security committee’s investigations subcommittee (pdf).
“The Subcommittee obtained a contract between Chinese teachers and Hanban that requires Chinese instructors at U.S. schools to ‘conscientiously safeguard national interests’ and terminates if the Chinese instructors ‘violate Chinese law’ or ‘engage in activities detrimental to national interests,’” the bipartisan report says, raising concerns over academic freedom and application of CCP laws at American universities.
The Trump administration in August urged universities to reconsider hosting the institutes, saying they advance the CCP influence by “providing institutions with financial incentives to abstain from criticizing PRC [People’s Republic of China] policies; putting pressure on faculty to self-censor; monitoring overseas students for loyalty to the party; and undermining freedom of expression by disrupting campus events deemed controversial to the CCP.”
Around the same time, the State Department designated as a foreign mission a Washington-based center that promotes the institutes.
The first Confucius Institute in the United States was set up at the University of Maryland in 2004. More than 100 had been established at U.S. schools and over 500 globally as of 2019.
Since then, however, the numbers significantly dwindled.
The National Association of Scholars (NAS), an education advocacy group, reported that 55 of the institutes have closed or are in the processing of closing, as of Jan. 19, with 63 remaining in the United States, including two that are scheduled to close later this year.
There has been a global pushback against the institutes, including in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In 2013, McMaster University in Canada became the first university in North America to close its Confucius Institute.